Find me at: RebeccaSJones.com

Screen Shot 2015-08-24 at 5.32.34 PMI finally did it. I bought a domain name, and I made a snazzy little website. There is no good reason for me to have taken so long. [Check it out: RebeccaSJones.com.]

When getting in my own way grew boring, I finally hopped on with a local domain hosting service (Fresh Roasted Hosting in Harrisburg, Pa.), saw RebeccaSJones.com was available, and picked it while it was ripe.

I still have feelings for you, dearest blog, but I knew I finally needed a real website if I wanted to bring in new clients for my freelance business. Working all day is great, but free time can be empty and boring, and I like for shiny new writing gigs to eat it all up.

For now, I’ve snagged a very clean WordPress theme [called Snaps] that I think is lovely. With my newly acquired CSS skills, I’ve got a few minor changes I’d like to make before the site is really my own… once I learn all about how child themes work. Oof.

If you’ve got any WordPress child theme advice for me, please drop it in the comments. If you don’t have any WordPress child theme advice, comment anyway, and tell me your opinions on “It Follows.”

Happy Monday.

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Hiatus

I’ve decided to take a hiatus from this blog. Don’t worry — I will return! I just want to be sure I’m keeping up with the demands of my many freelance jobs and satisfying my own creative and professional interests.

While I’ve had much to write about running through my head, finding quality time to ponder and write has been a struggle. Please check back in the coming weeks for more updates. I’ll miss you!

In the mean time: Here’s a link to my Blurb photo album from my recent travels to Sweden, my great-grandparents’ homeland. Enjoy!

Why self-publishing is about to blow your mind

Oh, it’s a glorious day. At long, long, long last, my postmodern photography book, “the irrationality of fact,” has been self-published. Here is the artist statement. At the end of the post is a preview, and a link to order (should you so choose).

“The irrationality of fact” intends to explore the limits of discourse; the fragility of the relationship between the signifier and the signified, between the word and the object; the endless deferral of meaning; containment, borders, boundaries; lines to be crossed, lines always already crossed.

It aims to examine the binaries natural, deviant; masculine, feminine; madness, sanity; soul, body; being, becoming; cause, effect; inclusion, exclusion; and how they collapse, having always already been one and the same.

It is inspired by Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Antonin Artaud, Karl Marx Friedrich Nietszche, Lissa Skitolsky and Gordon Harkins.

But this post isn’t just about me. It’s about you.

Self-publishing services, like Blurb.com, are revolutionary to so many fields. Art, music, academia, philosophy, and of course literature (and basically any field you can think of). While publishing companies serve a noble and valuable purpose, there’s something authoritarian about the whole system that rubs me the wrong way.

Perhaps it’s how similar it is to the news industry.

Remember that thing I wrote about objectivity? How editors have no choice but to show bias just by way of what stories they deem important enough to print? Well, publishers, of course, work the same way. And in both industries, it just has to be done.  Not everything can be published, so choices have to be made. It’ s not a flaw or a fault, just a characteristic that has both positive and negative repercussions.

Blurb, however, changes everything.

It deletes the mediator. It negates the idea that “Not everything can be published.” Now, everything can be published. Everything. Forever. This is awesome.

Okay, I can see the downsides — and there are a lot of them. But, think about it. You could be the Galileo of our age. You could have the craziest, most out there idea, that no one will legitimize through publishing, but it turns out your idea is actually totally valid, and, dare I say, right. Blurb doesn’t care who you are. Blurb is for books what YouTube is for broadcast journalism, or MTV, or record companies. It’s democracy at its best. It’s the marketplace of ideas.

Right, right, I don’t mean to romanticize. What I mean is that it’s a game-changer.

It was my photography professor, Gordon Harkins, who introduced me to this marvel. Each year in his Advanced Photography class, students must work together to build a book representing the class body of work for that semester. For an A grade, each student must make her own as well. Books are free to build, and cost money only to purchase when finished. The author may choose whether or not to collect a profit, and how much it is. The books are always archive-quality, and have a plethora of features customizing cover material, paper grade, and book dimensions. There are approximately umpteen ways to make your layout. You can design the book offline through their software, online (with limited options) from anywhere, or even convert any design program to a PDF, which converts seamlessly into a book on Blurb. I know, I’m an advertisement. But hear me out.

In the same way Blurb represents an endless array of options for ideas, Blurb also delivers (almost) just as many options to the artists it serves. Just beautiful.

I know you’ve had a thought that you can’t stop thinking. An idea for a photo essay, a dissertation you can’t believe you wrote, a brilliant body of research, a philosophy you yearn to share. DO IT. Don’t hesitate. You won’t regret it.

A (not so) brief look at my Swedish adventures

If ever I was thinking about my photographyjournalism career, the subject of this blog, it’s in the wake of my return from a two-week trip to Sweden, my family’s Fatherland. Accordingly, I’m hoping to follow this with a photo essay of my adventures, but for now a text recap will have to do. First for some background.

—–

This is the story as I understand it–which may, of course, be completely off.

At some point between 1920 and 1925, my father’s grandfather emigrated from Sweden to the U.S. His name was Axel Svensson, married to Gerda Svensson. One of their children was my grandmother, Ruth (Svensson) Jones. Axel grew up in Trollhättan, Sweden, a town built on four pillars of civilization: a hydropower plant; a manmade waterfall that flows at 15:00 every day in the summer (to support that power plant); a series of canal locks, both historic and functional; and Saab manufacturing.

One of Axel’s brothers, Johan, had a daughter who had a son (Kent) who had a daughter. Well, three daughters and two sons. One of those daughters is Sofia Eriksson. I began talking with Sofia about a year ago after my Dad suggested I contact his sister, who had stayed with Sofia about 20 years ago on her visit to Sweden.

And as a side note: I should say, my interest in Sweden spans more than just family ties. Of course, my interest in metal bands like In Flames, The Haunted and Opeth draws me to the Nordic tundra, but there’s also the thriving social democracy and (comparitavely) booming economy.  Yes, you can have both. Summerhouses and saunas aren’t status symbols, but are relatively common ways of life. So is expenses-paid healthcare. (As a side note within a side note, while we were there, my second-cousin needed an emergency room trip because of a stomach ache. They arrived back home from the visit sooner than we would’ve even been seen by a doctor in the States, and they had no bill to follow up on.) To say the least, I’m envious. At any rate, back to the main plot.

So, my Aunt Barbara got me in touch with Sofia on Facebook. I learned she’s a journalist and has an interest in politics. Of course! It’s in the blood. Because my fiancée, Joe, is a metalhead himself and has also had an interest in visiting Sweden, we started planning almost right away.

—–

Gothenburg

We arrived at the airport in Gothenburg (Göteborg), where Sofia and her family live, on a Monday.

Wait! First you need to know something. The word “lagom.” It (fittingly) has no English translation, but means something like not-too-much, not-t00-little. Just enough for all. Medium. Just right. A Goldilocks kind of tale. The term comes from the Viking practice of sharing mead from a drinking horn. Each warrior was to take just his fair share — not too much, not too little — so that everyone could have a drink. This has transformed in to this fantastic culture of modesty, humility, sharing, respect and kindness (although you may think the Vikings are an unlikely source for this!) that the Swedes themselves seem not to realize they have. I’ll give you a hint when this is represented in our travels.

Jetlagged and sleepy, Sofia drove us home — but we conquered, and spent the day roaming the second-largest city in Sweden, second only to… well, you know the answer already.

It. Was. Amazing. Between the exquisite architecture, the historic sculptures in every square, the canals, and the beaming kindness of the people, I was floored. The day marked the beginning of the Gothenburg Culture Festival, so there was much fun and food to be had.

Let’s set aside the fact that absolutely everything (and almost everyone) was stunningly beautiful, the cultural acceptance of metal music was astounding. We stumbled upon Evergrey, a Swedish metal band popular even in the states, playing on an outdoor stage as a part of a festival put on, funded and run by the state. (Lagom!)Further, the audience varied widely in its demographics–from obvious metalheads to 50-year-old women, to dads holding small children. And everyone seemed to be having a good time. (Lagom!) It was sociologically mindblowing.

But we had noticed something different on the Swedish metal front before. Each time we told someone that In Flames, a band from Gothenburg, was one of our favorite bands, we heard either, “Oh, cool!” or “Their music isn’t really my thing, but that’s great.” Either way, everyone we met had heard of them, and everyone appreciated their art and valued their musical contributions — even if they weren’t metalheads. (Lagom!) In the states, (Now’s the time to check your musical prejudices.) we get mostly “Who?” and “Oh, that stuff’s just noise.”

Of course, everything was more expensive for two reasons. 1. The value of the USD is laughable. 2. It’s a tourist destination. We definitely sought out traditional Swedish treats, but they were often at pricey restaurants. And we were looking for the cheapest grub we could get! We saw hot dog (korv) stands everywhere, and generally could grab one for about 35 kronor (approx $5. For a hot dog. Yeah.) The magic came when we discovered the tunnbrödsrulle, or flat bread roll. With a price of anywhere up to $10 USD, these blue-collar korv creations were the treat I treasured the most in my time there.

The tunnbrödsrulle is basically a hot dog, mashed potatoes and other fixin’s wrapped in a sheet of flatbread. You start with the flatbread (a special Swedish sort called tunnbröd), spoon on two generous scoops of mashed potatoes, then stick in a grilled hot dog or sausage. Add toppings like onion, tomato, shredded lettuce, ketchup, mustard, and majonnasgurka (sweet relish mixed with mayonnaise). Even add in some raksallad (shrimp salad) or pulled pork. Then wrap the flatbread into a cone shape and hold together with foil. Good luck with that last part — it’ll  be bursting at the seams.

And now for the CliffNotes version of some additional of the Gothenburg-area highlights.

  • Discovered Mustasch, a fantastic Swedish hard rock band, and saw them in concert as a part of the Culture Festival.
  • Explored some great metal/rock bars and the iconic Gothenburg metal scene. I recommend Rockbaren, Sticky Fingers & 2112, a swanky restaurant and bar founded and owned by Bjorn and Peter of In Flames.
  • Met a lot of fantastic people, including three of my other Swedish cousins and my Swedish uncle, all thrice removed (I think). That also includes Christo Willesen, Mr. Gay Sweden, who came in second (to Italy) for Mr. Gay Europe. He was our waiter at Bee, which has absolutely DELICIOUS food.
  • Visited Marstrand during the sailing competition Match Cup Sweden to see the historic fortress Carlsten. The tour featured an in-character guide and some hilarious stories.
  • Went to IKEA… obviously.
  • Toured the beautiful Gothenburg archipelago by boat (free with public transit pass!). These tiny islands were astounding. With no cars (just bikes and motorbikes), breathtaking landscape and quaint cottage-style homes, we felt like we were in a fairy tale… or the Lord of the Rings movies.
  • Spent some quality time with my Swedish famliy — Sofia & Håkan and their children Ella (13), Liv (11) & Harry (3).

Trollhättan

For one day, Sofia, Harry, Joe & I ventured from Gothenburg to Trollhättan, had lunch at a lovely cafe by the oldest set of canal locks, and met even more of my wonderful family. We were interviewed by a young journalist and appeared in the local paper a few days later. I stood in the very spot where my great-grandfather Axel’s house once stood (and is now a bank’s parking lot).  But I had a main mission as well.

No matter where we lived, the kitchen in my family’s home has always donned two painted wooden plates. At the bottom of both is written “Trollhättan.” One is an image of a winding road on a hill next to a river, an iron bridge in the distance. The other is of the famed hydropower plant, the river and mountainsides framing the iconic view. My dad sent us there to recreate these paintings in photos. And we succeeded! (Photo proof will be in an update.) It was an all-around breathtaking experience.

Stockholm

After a week (and weekend) in Gothenburg, we hopped a Monday morning plane for a half-hour flight to Stockholm, a 300-mile journey Northeast.

The night before, Sofia helped us book our stay on the Gustaf af Klint, a docked ship that serves as a hostel, hotel, restaurant and bar in the Slussen area of Stockholm, a short walk from Old Town.

The first night, we had a private cabin with two bunked beds, a sink and storage. From the common area, we could see the beautiful architecture of historic Old Town across the water. (Stockholm is a city built on a series of islands and peninsulas that you travel between via boat, bus, subway or foot.) For the next three nights, we stayed with a fantastic, young French couple (who invited us for a stay “any time” at their home in the heart of Paris… French lagom?).

The last night we spent in the dormitory, an open room with 16 bunked beds linked to more rooms with more beds. At first it was nerve-racking to have no locked luggage storage, until you realize that everyone is in this together. (Lagom!) Don’t mind the movies, kids, hostels are a great way to save money (for us it came out to $30 a night), there’s almost always an option of a private room for a slightly higher price, and once you experience the lagom culture, you realize that life is so different in Sweden (and, I assume, most of Europe), that you have little to worry about.

Anyway, Stockholm is lovely, but had many, many more tourists. Everywhere we went were giant tour groups from Spain, Italy, Germany or France. The default language, especially in Old Town, is English. It’s just easier knowing that most people who visit your shop or restaurant aren’t going to speak Swedish. In Gothenburg, people spoke to us (well, mostly me, since my Swedishness is evident) in Swedish first, until we, disheartened, told them we didn’t speak it. Luckily, of course, almost all Swedes speak English and were happy to continue the conversation accordingly. Swedes who might not speak great English: Those older than 50, those younger than 15, and those who immigrated there.

It’s also hard to get traditional Swedish food there unless you know where to go (except tunnbrödsrulle and meatballs, of course!) because it’s a very international city. Although I have to say, the Indian, Italian and Mediterranean food we ate there was superb.

Oh! Did I mention that Swedes are ridiculously stylish? J. Crew ads come to life. Joe, a tall brunette, said he didn’t fit in because his hair was dark. (I, a redhead, was told many times how Swedish I look! Yay!) I said, “At least you’re tall enough to fit in here!” I felt like a child. Anyway, we saw hardly anyone who was young and overweight. Women and men look like they came straight out of fashion magazines. It’s all practical clothing, nothing outrageous, just… so… perfect. Google Image “Swedish street style.” People just walk around like that. I swear I didn’t see a pair of sweatpants the whole time.

Some brief highlights of our Stockholm leg:

  • Fought with a waiter at Michelangelo’s Italian restaurant because the pizza was undercooked. I still recommend the restaurant to anyone looking for some delicious food and interesting atmosphere. I also learned that whatever I thought a margherita pizza was, I was wrong.
  • Totally nerded out about government. No, seriously. Parliamentary monarchies are secretly genius ways of maintaining national pride and unity while allowing for the criticism of functional leaders (Lagom!), even in a time of royal scandal. Sweden is the perfect example. Of course, Stockholm is home to the royal palace, the Riksdag (parliament) & many other exciting political institutions & museums.
  • Toured the Stockholm archipelago. Because Sweden’s rich & royal flocked to Stockholm, which was settled and founded first as well, these islands aren’t as remote or fairy tale as Gothenburg’s. Mostly they’re topped the old mansions of history’s rich Swedes, re-purposed to buildings more useful to society. (Lagom!) One is now an orphanage. It’s still a nice boat tour to take for a day on the water.
  • Walked,
  • and walked,
  • and walked, and walked.
  • Walked around Nybroplan, the Manhattan of Stockholm. It’s full of designer stores with Europe’s latest fashions. As you may have guessed, we were out of our element… so we moved on.
  • Visited the Vasa Museum, a perfectly preserved, resurrected sunken 17th Century ship with a hilarious story (that you can Google).
  • Visited Skansen, a zoo-meets-outdoor-museum and saw many Nordic animals like elk (moose, not North American elk), reindeer, wolves, wolverines, owls & foxes. There were other cool exhibits, but we were really tired. Sorry.
  • Visited Aquaria and saw some exciting aquatic life.
  • Saw a million other museums. Visited many bars. Met many more wonderful people. Did so many things I can hardly remember them now!
All in all, I can’t wait to go back. I’ve taken so much from this trip — t-shirts and souvenirs, but more importantly, I’ve taken away the lagom culture, and plan to live my daily life remembering others and being grateful and humble — more than ever.
The flight home was long and sad, and fittingly, we arrived at the Washington, D.C. airport in the pouring rain, the beginnings of Hurricane Irene, just days after an earthquake hit the East Coast and back home in Pennsylvania. Sigh.

The moral of all this:

If you want to return from a trip grateful for what you have back home in the Good Ol’ U.S. of A. … Don’t go to Sweden. Try Bulgaria instead.

Stay tuned for a photo essay on my Swedish adventures, coming soon.

Continuing my epic quest for bias acceptance in media

As you may know, I’ve previously written on the subject of objectivity & bais in news media, and I think Reuters columnist Jack Shafer sums up my point perfectly in his recent column on media bias.

Shafer wrote in his column, “worshipful normalization of the centrist point of view prevents [us] from rethinking the media bias question.”

Political truth doesn’t necessarily lay in the center, and some views, while heralded by a political party (for instance, Creationism in Christian Conservatives), should not be included in rational debate, even though they represent “the other side.” Further, those with a point to make are often the ones doing real investigation (i.e. Jon Stewart’s phenominal interview chutzpah), and they shouldn’t be demonized for their position, or be forced to silence it in the name of “news” vs. “entertainment” classification.

Even among those who expect objectivity in their news, we demonize the journalists themselves for caring about the news they deliver. Apparently voting Democrat or Republican means you are bound to deliver Liberal or Conservative news, and not something fully investigated and weighed.

I want to be a journalist, and I want to put a snarky Liberal bumper sticker on my car.

These two things shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, but for some reason any presence of political activism (Left or Right) seems to preclude you from journalistic integrity. People with opinions can still be open-minded, can still make fair editorial decisions, and can still present a well-rounded news piece. And they do, every day. You think network news anchors don’t vote? Of course they do. If they care enough to tell the world what’s going on, they damn well better care enough to do something about it.

The fact is, these anchors shouldn’t have to hide their perspectives. In fact, it doesn’t serve the audience. As both journalists and news consumers, our opinions will always guide us toward certain stories, and to tackle them from different angles — And that’s okay! If we know that FOXNews and The Washington Post are Conservative, and that CNN and The New York Times are Liberal, it helps us to evaluate the information they’re giving us from a full perspective. To understand reporters’ points of view is to understand the news they deliver more completely — further, to understand the editorial choices made by the organization as a whole.  Maybe we’ll understand Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner a little better. Maybe we’ll get why they do what they do.

And as a side note: Let us not forget that the expectation of objectivity in news is a relatively recent phenomenon, and one that is particular to the West, and the U.S. more specifically. Jefferson and Madison knew which papers were Federalist and Anti-Federalist, and could tailor their letters to the editor according to the audience they serve. They could more easily interact with the editorial staff and approached media relations in a clear and open way.

Journalism isn’t about manufacturing fairness. It’s about transparency, honesty, discovery and truth. Sometimes the truth isn’t fair.

Back to the Drawing Board

…Well, not entirely.

—–

The time has come yet again to apply for work. When I accepted a summer internship, I knew my honeymoon employment stage would end soon. As it quickly approaches, I’m kicking it into high gear to get hired.

—–

This blog began as an exploration of the intersection of photographer and journalist – two of my fields of study.  Yet, it seems more complicated than that as I expand the limits of my work experience.  Of course, my schooling tacked on “political scientist” and “graphic designer.” My extraphotographic art exhibitions broadened photographer into “artist.” With this internship, I can add “marketer” and “corporate communications strategist” to the list.

It’s good to be able to wear any number of hats, but at some point I’m going to have to choose a path. As it’s becoming painfully obvious to me, that time is now.

I’m applying for a wide array of jobs, but I won’t get to wear all my hats in every one of them. And I like my hats!

This has become an exploration into my whole professional self. The intersection of each  part of my professional experience, melding with my passion and idealism. Who is the photographer-journalist-political scientist-graphic designer-artist-marketer-corporate communications strategist?

—–

Despite my titling, it’s not exactly “Back to the drawing board,” just yet. There’s a chance this internship could extend into a full-time position, or pave the way for full-time work elsewhere in the same company. I’m still looking outside.

I’m keeping my eyes and ears open to any and every opportunity I’ve got in front of me. I want to do what’s best — Not just what’s convenient.

 

‘Til next time.

 

Don’t forget to follow: @BeckySJones

Mindset/Dataset

I’ve started to think a lot about data.

I know, it’s out of character. It came from a question about assumptions: How can we measure the accuracy of what we assume to be true about the world?

We can’t. At least, that’s what I’ve decided.  I’ve been wrong before. We all know that everything is relative; that assumptions are almost always wrong; that two contradictory statistics can both be accurate; that Truth is unattainable, that truths are multiple, colliding, uncharted. We know. This is why it’s impossible for journalists to be objective: we have to choose a truth. But I can’t stop thinking about it.

xxxxx

For my internship, I’ve been watching videos put out by TED, Technology, Entertainment, Design, that have piqued my interest. One presentation, by Hans Rosling, a Swedish public health professor, moved me. Titled Let My Dataset Change You Mindset, the piece was about the way we visually structure our worldviews. Industrialized and Developing nations sit on opposite sides of the room, one laughing at the other, or, when feeling generous, throwing a bone.

He opens the presentation by showing that, when represented by data, that assumption is based on the world in the 1950s.

Divided by family size and life expectancy, “Developing” and “Industrialized” nations no longer sit in two separate clusters in opposite corners of the graph, but as he plays the animation to advance the data over time, the bubbles all move slowly, gathering in the top left, long life, small family corner.  Only a few struggling countries lag behind. This sharp division that continues to be made in our general discourse, of “Developing” and “Industrialized” nations, is false. We are all developing, and toward the same goal.

Slowly, this convergence will transform the way we think about the globalizing world. For right now, we’re thinking three generations in the past.

Skip to another graph: Life expectancy v. Income. Case studies: China and the U.S. Both live longer and make more money than they did 60 years ago, but how they got there is intriguing. The U.S. used the economy to build income, which gradually improved the overall health of citizens.  China’s development went in stages, stagnant until the rise of Mao Zedong, when health improved dramatically and rapidly. Public health was thrust upon the people, providing vaccinations, treatments, prevention methods, family planning and general knowledge of how to live a healthy life. But during this time, income among the Chinese remained low and steady. It wasn’t until Mao’s death and the introduction of a quasi-capitalist economy that Chinese citizens increased personal income.

Quality of life increases rapidly in Socialist environments, where household income is not relevant to general way of life. Capitalism develops the same quality, more gradually, and less equally among its citizens. Beautiful. In the end, two world views, pitted against each other for their vast differences, are not so different. They’re both boiled down to little bubbles on a graph near the top of the life expectancy range.

Another presentation, The Beauty of Data Visualization,  by David McCandless moved me as well. While the entire presentation gives us an illuminating look at the importance of visualizing data, whether to parse out the real meaning of $1 billion, or to see the most popular times of year for break-ups on Facebook, a few particular points caught my attention.

The U.S. military budget, he shows, is so massive that it can contain all the other military budgets of the world inside of it, and still have room to flex its muscles. It is more than twice the size of Africa’s total debt.

This sparks certain assumptions: military dominance; modern imperialism; the insatiable need to spread democracy; the military-industrial complex. Yet, it’s in absolute numbers, and we know all fact is relative.  So, of course the U.S. has a giant military budget. It also has a giant GDP, so logically they would grow hand-in-hand. When we compare the military budgets as a proportion of GDP, Myanmar comes out on top.  Myanmar. At 26 percent of its GDP.

The U.S., in comparison, budgets 4 percent of its GDP on military activities. Below Jordan, Georgia, Saudi Arabia, Kyrgyzstan, Burundi and Oman.

Yeah, I said Burundi.

It’s the intersection between understanding relative information, cross referencing absolutes with other interesting absolutes to come to a beautiful conclusion, and the power of visualization that make these presentations powerful. We see much faster than we think.  I can think of so many applications this knowledge has in my industries: the creation of useful infographics in a newspaper; the consolidation of massive amounts of information into easily digestible, but comprehensive charts; the ability to show readers a state budget they can really understand.

And, most relevant to the project this blog seeks to explore, all this comes to terms with the fact that it’s all subjective, relative. Even data journalism isn’t objective. It can’t be. We’re choosing which points of information to pit against each other. We’re choosing that X is relevant to Y and not Z. But visual data gives so many more options. It allows readers to soak in much more information in much less time. They can compare more data sets to come to their own conclusions. There will always be a certain amount of editorial agenda-setting, but with visual data, the opportunities for reader engagement are endless.

McCandless was right. Data is beautiful.